How A Child’s Passion Grew Into Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

– Posted in: Garden Design, Seeds

 I’ve been following the growth of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Catalog for years. When ordering from them this year, I read about Jere Gettle, the founder, and in a split second knew that I wanted to interview him. He’s an innovator and visionary in the world of gardening. Fran Sorin

1.    You planted your first garden at age 3.  Do you come from a gardening lineage? 

My great uncle was one of the first organic farmers in California.  Many family members were market gardeners over the years.  I remember planting with both my parents and grandparents in their large gardens.

Flower Zinnia Will Rogers 592 wide text

2.    How does a 3 year old go about planting a garden?

I started by tagging along with parents and grandparents as they worked in their gardens.  When I began poking my own seeds into the ground, excitement and amazement grew along with the plants as I watched the flowers and fruits that came from those seeds.

3.    At age 17, in 1998, you published your first Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. How did this passion develop and what sustained it through childhood and your teenage years?

After planting those first seeds as a very small child, my interest in gardening kept expanding.  By age 10, I had ordered every seed catalog that I knew about.  I loved to go to old stores and look through their old seed bins to see the different varieties of seeds they had once carried.  The whole process of growing and saving seeds fascinated me.  While still a child, I knew that someday I wanted to work at a seed company.

4.    How did you come up with the idea of publishing a seed catalog?

I had become a member of Seed Savers Exchange, and my interest in seeds just kept developing.  As I saw varieties come and go from seed catalogs, I knew that I wanted to offer some of those rare varieties to others.  I typed up a list of the seeds that I had saved, photocopied the list, stapled it and mailed it out.  I had always wanted to share the varieties with others, and I needed to sell the seeds I was growing.

5.    When you started the catalog, did you have a vision of what you wanted it to be in the future?

Not really.  I was just hoping to continue to grow and collect seeds, especially unique varieties that I felt couldn’t afford to be lost.

6.    You’re a fount of creative ideas with the ability of seeing them through and concurrently  developing other businesses – have you always been a visionary and non-stop creator?

I was always thinking about food and gardening, and I had a passion for histories and stories about people and seeds.  While I don’t consider myself to be a visionary, I do admit to thinking outside the box.

Cucumber Boston Pickling 592 text

7.    Can you offer us a peek into some of your other businesses ~ Festivals, Bakersville Village, Heirloom Gardener Magazine, preservation of Comstock, Ferre and Company, 2 published books and your extensive work supplying free seeds to many of the world’s poorest countries?

 Baker Creek started hosting festivals in 2000 as an idea to bring gardeners, homesteaders, and natural food enthusiasts together to exchange thoughts and seeds, listen to speakers, enjoy old time music, etc.

These festivals led the to the creation of Bakersville Pioneer Village that includes Harriet’s Mercantile, London Apothecary, Baker’s Flour Mill, opry stages, and much more. 

We have retail outlets on both coasts.  Our Petaluma Seed Bank is a unique seed and garden store that has found its home in a grand old former bank building in Petaluma, California.  Our Wethersfield, Connecticut, location is Comstock, Ferre and Co., one of the oldest continuously operating seed companies in the country.

Our first published book, titled The Heirloom Life Gardener, is a general gardening book with some  personal history in the narrative.  The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook is our second publication and is full of traditional ways to cook, preserve, and eat the harvest.

Our Heirloom Gardener magazine is 84 colorful pages filled with mouth-watering, lavish photos and articles tailored to the heirloom food enthusiast.

We strive to educate everyone about a better, safer food supply and fight gene-altered Frankenfood and the companies that support it.  We love helping classroom garden projects, as well as other educational garden projects and are always delighted to send seeds to food-aid projects in developing countries to help the people improve their food supply.

The urban garden movement is well underway across the globe, and we are helping it to grow when we send seeds to inner-city agencies and volunteers trying to grow healthy food in plots intermingled with apartment buildings and businesses.  All kinds of charity groups around the world seek donations from us so they can help to spread the knowledge of good food and how to grow it.

Tomato Assorted Vernissage 592 wide text

8.    Why should a gardener care that all of your seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non-patented? 

The fact that our seeds are non-hybrid means they will grow true, whereas seeds from hybrid plants may produce offspring very unlike the plants from which the seeds were saved.  While Monsanto and other big chemical companies will argue that genetically modified organisms are safe, there is abundant research pointing to the health risks of GMOs in our food.  Because our seeds are untreated with chemicals, they have no harmful residual effects to pass on to the consumer.  We firmly believe that seeds should not be patented.  Rather gardeners have a right to know what is in their seed, to save their seed, and to know the story of what they are eating.  Individuals have the right to grow, save, store, and pass on their seeds to future generations.

9.    You work with a network of about 150 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers and that many of your varieties were bought on trips abroad.

a.     How do you go about searching out 150 small farmers, gardeners, and growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available? 

Ever since we published our first catalog, people have been sending seeds to us or physically bringing them to us.  We also collect a lot of seeds during our travels to different regions.

b.    What standards do they have to meet to become one of your growers? 

Our growers must have the ability to produce seed without contamination.  They must have enough general garden knowledge to keep their seed pure and viable.

c.    How long do you trial new varieties before you sell them in the marketplace? Do you trial them in more than one location?

We trial our seeds primarily at our Missouri headquarters but also in California and a few other places.  We trial anywhere from one year to nearly 20 years.

d.    What process do you go through in choosing new varieties to trial? How many new ones do you add each year?

The number of new varieties we offer varies by year, though we try to offer as many new ones as possible.  We select for history, shape, color, flavor, and disease resistance.  Choices are hard due to the vast array of possibilities, and some things we would like to offer, just don’t make it into the catalog.

cauliflower purple of sicily 592 text

10.  Do you think the general gardening population is becoming more educated about the benefits and importance of growing seeds vs. buying starter plants? 

There is definitely an overall trend toward growing from seeds.  All seed companies, not just Baker Creek, are experiencing this trend.  Many of our Facebook fans post comments and questions about their initiation into starting plants from seeds.

11.  What 5 seeds would you suggest for beginners? And what 5 seeds would you suggest for more experienced ‘seed sowers’ who want to expand their repertoire?

  Beginners can have success with most general types of seeds, but some of the easiest would be beats, beans, radishes, tomatoes, and zinnias.  The more experienced growers could expand with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, watermelon and jelly melon. 

12.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is more than a business. It’s your values, your family …you breathe it.  Share with us some thoughts on what it represents in your life.

Gardening is what I love to do.  And I also love sharing stories about people and seeds.  I am fortunate that my main interest and hobby is also what we do for a living.  Emilee and Sasha are involved, as well.  Emilee is Editor in Chief of the Heirloom Gardener magazine and is instrumental in creating the catalog.  Both Emilee and Sasha like to help out in the gardens and collect seeds during our travels.

13.  Do you have a vision of what your company is going to be doing 5 years from now?

No.  Not really.  I hope to keep expanding and learning more about food and plants.  Right now, we are just trying to get through the busy mail order season and starting to think about planting the gardens.

14. If you could do one thing in the world that you haven’t yet done, what would it be? 

Go to China and Iran.  Having a huge interest in ancient histories and routes, I would love to travel parts of the Old Silk Road and learn histories of seeds and people.  I would love to keep the old seeds going.

THE GIVEAWAY – a copy of Jere and Emilee Settle’s book,  The Heirloom Life Gardener.

Heirloom seed book cover 592 h

To be eligible, write a comment and sign up for our newsletter. The winner will be chosen randomly.

To check out the huge variety of seeds that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offer, click here.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. What type of seeds do you buy? How do you decide where to order your seeds?

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
Previous Post:

Comments on this entry are closed.

Ellen O. Bender March 19, 2013, 9:39 am

Had a hard time finding a link where the comments were open..
I’m quite glad to get a glimpse into Jere’s passion for plants, seeds, travel & sharing. Thanks for the comprehensive coverage… Ellen

Sharon March 19, 2013, 9:45 am

What an interesting interview! I enjoyed reading it and have been getting seeds and growing primarily heirloom varieties for several years now. Many of them are purchased from Bakers Creek.

Amy March 19, 2013, 9:48 am

I usually split between Seed Savers and ones I get from trades with friends. This year I am trying to focus on herbs since I do container gardening and tomatoes.

Janice Seigler March 19, 2013, 9:53 am

Gardening is my passion! I order all my seeds and subscribe to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It would be so sweet to own their book, “The Heirloom Life Gardener.”

LeAnna March 19, 2013, 9:58 am

I just ordered my first seeds from Baker Creek – from anywhere actually. Can’t wait to start growing my own food and learning how to do it. Any help would be most appreciated, because I’m totally inexperienced!

Kelly March 19, 2013, 10:38 am

I love the Baker Creek catalog. I just discovered them this winter and look forward to trying new varieties of heirlooms this summer. Thanks for the interview.

Susan March 19, 2013, 10:59 am

If you want a fantastic catalog this is it! I especially enjoyed your interview Fran because it again highlights the lasting impression exposure to the natural world, including gardening, as children has on people. As Jere pointed out these are permanent lasting memories that inspire us throughout life.

Melanie Cox March 19, 2013, 11:46 am

I read Jere’s testimony before on how he got the bright idea to start the catalog and it’s AWESOME on where they’re at today with it. I plan on saving my seeds also because who knows…Big Brother may swoop down and take all our sources of heirloom gardening away…I want to be prepared. I would love to win that book in the giveaway. Thanks for posting this article. :)

Serena March 19, 2013, 11:54 am

I love your story. You have beautiful varieties!

Geanie Litzman March 19, 2013, 12:12 pm

Great article. It is inspiring to see that man that is not much older than I am can grow up with great gardening idles and that he is trying to pass them on to others. I look forward to browsing his seed catalog and getting your newsletters.

Tallie McDermitt March 19, 2013, 12:22 pm

Known Jere most of his life, what a beautiful gift he has given us all!!

jaylyn morehouse March 19, 2013, 12:46 pm

Love love love Baker Creek Seed Company! I order from them every year. Getting seeds in January takes my mind off the cold winter, and gets me thinking about spring weather just around the corner!

Louise Powers March 19, 2013, 1:06 pm

awsome article. I have recently started planting herloom seeds and have one of the more exquisite little gardens in my neighborhood. the other lil old ladies and I on my street love shareing the different varieties we find with each other

Cary Bradley March 19, 2013, 1:08 pm

Great article. I buy heirloom seeds because I am excited at the idea of growing living history. This year my seeds are from Baker Creek, Hudson Valley Seed Library and Renee’s Seeds. Choosing whom to buy from is a challenge. I save seeds from year to year and try to spread my seed dollars to many growers, usually ones who have signed the Safe Seeds Pledge. No GMOs for me, please.

Jessica March 19, 2013, 1:12 pm

I was tired of flavorless supermarket produce and I was working for a landscape supply store when I decided to plant my own garden. I was looking at the different types of veggies available when I came to the realization they were all hybridized and the heirlooms were considerably more costly. I remembered my grandmother talking about the produce she grew up with and decided to find an heirloom seed company not even knowing if anything like that existed. A company that sold nothing but heirlooms? Then I found Baker Creek Seeds. They caught my attention with all the exotic names and places, so I ordered their 2012 catalog. I was spellbound. The articles, recipes, bright colored photos of the produce, and the seemingly unending list of seeds available. From that day on I am a lifelong fan and customer. I agree Jere, the history of the seeds gets me. I found some melons that my ancestors would have grown when they emmigrated to Canada over 200 years ago. Seeds are more than just food, they are a continuous connection to the past.

Shirley F. March 19, 2013, 1:27 pm

Lovely story and interview. I tend to get seeds from friends as we live in challenging climate but I see Baker Creek has heirloom zinnias I have not seen in years so I plan to check out the catalog and beautiful blog in the future.

Nicky O. March 19, 2013, 1:43 pm

This is my second year ordering from Baker Creek. It was great to read the story behind the company. I have loved everything I have ordered from them. The catalog is like the toy catalog at Christmas time. This year, I ordered quite a bit and my seedlings are ready to go once our weather improves.

Reed Pugh March 19, 2013, 1:47 pm

I love everything about this company. They are my first stop for herbs and veggies.

Fanny Obadia March 19, 2013, 2:15 pm

Every year I try growing from seed, and the most difficult step for me is when time comes to separate the tiny seedlings into another container. What am I not doing right?
I love the pleasure of picking my seed varieties…some tips from the experts please?

Gareth March 19, 2013, 2:35 pm

I always find it interesting hearing how other people found there way into a life of horticulture!! This is no exception!!

carol blount March 19, 2013, 3:23 pm

My family and I enjoyed a cold and rainy day at Baker Creek Farm in MO recently. The grandsons and I had lots of fun. They loved picking out seeds to plant in our Ozark garden. We will visit again for sure.

Kelkel March 19, 2013, 3:24 pm

In the past, I just bought random seeds at the store. This year, I have sought out GMO-free and heirloom varieties to try. I am only container gardening, but hoping to try a large number of new things. Thanks! :)

Kathryn Siuniak March 19, 2013, 3:31 pm

I am new the gardening scene – I just got my community garden plot secured and my Baker Creeks seeds just came in! Reading this article is really making me look forward to starting things.

LindaW March 19, 2013, 3:41 pm

Just got the Baker Creek catalog this year. I’d already placed an order elsewhere, but I’ll most likely be putting in a bigger garden next year, and will be keeping the catalog till then.

Brenda March 19, 2013, 3:51 pm

I just bought from Baker seeds the first time this year. I was amazed at how quickly they got my order to me. One of the types that I bought was that gorgeous Purple of Sicily Cauliflower. I can wait to get it in the ground and growing.

Kelly March 19, 2013, 4:54 pm

I will have to request a Baker Creek catalog – I have never seen one. Thanks for the tip!

Patty Page March 19, 2013, 4:58 pm

I actually bought from Baker Creek this year—it’s the 2nd time I’ve ordered from them. Buying organice, non-GMO seeds is very important to me. Usually we just buy tomato and pepper seeds, but have branched out to try some different seeds this year, including quinoa.

Sharyn Flint March 19, 2013, 5:44 pm

I love that you save Comstock Ferre! I am going to visit next month all the way from the Florida Keys…to pick up the book I am going to win! Thank you for all the work you do.

RaeAnne March 19, 2013, 5:59 pm

Me!!

Kathy J March 19, 2013, 6:36 pm

So many vegetables, I love them all! It is so much fun having grown your own. I like trying new ones. My Grandmother & Mother taught me !! I like learning about vegetable gardening. Your post is great!!

Lisa Warmoth March 19, 2013, 10:05 pm

I planted Baker Creek Heirloom seeds for the first time last year. Now I am hooked. I will be using there seeds every year. That was the healthiest, tastiest, and strongest producing garden I have ever grown~True story.

Crybrug March 20, 2013, 5:01 am

That was a very interesting article. Thank you

Denise Fedor March 20, 2013, 7:57 am

I am waiting on my seed order from Baker Creek. This is the second year I have ordered. Thanks for the article. It shows I have ordered from the right people!

Cindy S. March 20, 2013, 7:59 am

I’ve ordered seed from Baker Creek for a few years now. I love the catalog, though I liked the paintings on the cover better than this years photograph.
The service is quick, there is always a hand written note on the invoice and a package of free seeds.

Linda Jones March 20, 2013, 8:04 am

I am on my second year of ordering seeds from Baker Creek. I order from them because their prices are fair and I feel that they are “trying to do the right thing.”

Marlene P March 20, 2013, 8:57 am

Nice article! I love Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds!

Carol M March 20, 2013, 11:21 am

I like the heirloom festivals, too!

Jane-Ann Phillips March 20, 2013, 12:36 pm

I’m so glad I found your site! I am looking forward to ordering quality seeds from your wonderful selection. Thanks for the purity and integrity of your seeds–your passion shows!

Joe Farinaccio March 25, 2013, 12:54 pm

Great interview Fran. I’ve corresponded with Jere a couple of times and his depth of knowledge about seeds and gardening is amazing, I love his commitment to non-GMO produce. His company is a refuge for those of us in search of freedom from the standard fare pused by the industrial food complex.

Cindi March 26, 2013, 8:06 am

Even though I am getting a midlife start at gardening, I do want to be a vegetable gardener when I grow up!

marilynn April 3, 2013, 8:02 am

Just love the story of Baker Creek, and their catalogue of fantastic plants, with the occasional humorous photo shoot !

Fran Sorin April 3, 2013, 9:00 am

Marilynn- I’ve got 50 plus seed varieties from them this year – some germinating already-others waiting to be sown in my soon to be constructed raised beds. It is a beautiful and inspiring story. Have a wonderful spring :) Fran

Dan April 9, 2013, 11:47 pm

I’ve got my 4 year old grandson helping me in my garden. Yes the gardening is fun, but the bonding time together is priceless. Really enjoyed the post…thanks!